Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war are believed to have been killed in the missile strike

  • Death of prisoners blamed on Russia, Ukraine trade
  • Britain says Russia is deploying large numbers of Wagner fighter jets
  • The UN hopes for grain progress, but says the details are still unclear

KYIV, July 29 (Reuters) – Dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war appeared to have been killed in a missile strike on Friday, with Moscow and Kiev accusing each other of carrying out the attack.

The incident overshadowed UN-backed efforts to restart grain exports from Ukraine and ease the global hunger crisis stemming from the war, now in its sixth month.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said 40 inmates were killed and 75 wounded in an attack on a prison in Olenivka, a leading city in a part of separatist-held Donetsk province.

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Russian news agencies said it accused Kiev of being targeted by US-made HIMARS rockets.

Ukraine’s armed forces denied the strike and blamed Russian forces, saying Russian artillery had targeted the prison.

“In this way, the Russian aggressors pursued their criminal goals – to accuse Ukraine of committing ‘war crimes’, as well as to cover up prisoners and executions,” said the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Ukrainian prisoners of war were being held at the prison and eight prison staff were injured. Pro-Russian separatist leader Denis Bushilin is reported to have said that none of the 193 people detained there are foreigners.

A video released by a Russian war correspondent shows pro-Russian soldiers sifting through the charred remains of what he says is a prison.

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The broken roof of the building was hanging down and charred remains of bodies were seen.

At least five people were killed and seven wounded in a Russian missile attack on the southeastern city of Mykolaiv, a river port just off the Black Sea, as Russia fires from fronts in eastern and southern Ukraine separately.

A missile struck near a public transport stop, regional governor Vitaly Kim said in a telegram.

Russia, which denies targeting civilians, did not immediately comment on the situation and Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.

Grain beliefs

Russia and Ukraine agreed last week to ban grain exports from Black Sea ports threatened by Russian attacks since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

The deal was the first diplomatic breakthrough in the conflict and wheat prices in Asia fell this week on expectations of higher supplies.

But the fierce fighting makes it more dangerous.

United Nations assistant chief Martin Griffiths said Thursday evening that he hoped the first grains would move on Friday, but important details for safe passage of the ships were still being worked out. read more

He insisted the move was commercial — not humanitarian — but the United Nations believed it would prioritize poor countries, citing Somalia, where nearly a quarter of a million people face starvation.

While grain shortages in Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest exporters, have fed rising food prices around the world, Russian gas shortages have pushed up energy prices in Europe and fueled fears of winter shortages.

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Russian gas flowing to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline was at just 20% capacity on Friday after Russia cut flows by half citing maintenance work.

Moscow, which describes its invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” carried out in self-defense, blames Western sanctions for limited gas supplies. Ukraine and its allies say the Russian attack was completely unprovoked.

Focus on the south

Britain’s intelligence update suggests Russia has ordered mercenaries to hold parts of the frontline in Ukraine – a sign of a shortage of combat infantry as Kyiv steps up a counteroffensive in the south.

The heavy reliance on fighters from the Russian private military firm Wagner Group for frontline missions rather than regular missions in special operations is another sign that Russia’s military is under stress six months into the war in Ukraine.

But the British Ministry of Defense said in an update that the Wagner mercenaries were unlikely to compensate for the loss of conventional infantry units or change the trajectory of Russia’s invasion.

“This is a significant shift from the group’s previous work since 2015, which typically carried out tasks distinct from overt, large-scale conventional Russian military operations,” the ministry said.

Wagner and the Kremlin were not immediately available for comment.

Officials in Kyiv said on Wednesday they had observed a “massive redeployment” of Russian forces in the south, where British defense officials believe Russia’s 49th Army stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro River is vulnerable.

Ukraine’s counterattacks in the south come as Russia fights to control the entire industrialized Donbass region in the east, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

Report by Reuters Bureau; By Stephen Coates and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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